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December 09, 2022

Baselines: What are they, and why are they beneficial in project management?

BigGantt Gantt Hybrid Management Project Management
Aleksandra Szmit Content Writer

Any project must start with a plan or at least a rough overview of the idea. It doesn’t matter how large or small the idea for the project is, it must have some guidelines, key points, and deadlines. All of this helps to determine what it is you are hoping to achieve. There are many ways you could approach it, including a project baseline.

What is a project baseline?

The project baseline is a starting point – an initial plan.

So, you have your idea, but you have to move it in a certain direction. To do so, you need to consider the costs, project expectations, scope, deadlines, workload, schedule, and a variety of other things depending on the project’s specifics. A baseline helps you plan out all of those things and take them into careful consideration.

There are three main types of project baselines:

  • schedule baseline, 
  • cost baseline,
  • scope baseline. 

You can use baselines to track progress, adapt to any changes made, or as an aid in overseeing the entire project. Furthermore, it helps to spot any potential obstacles and to identify areas that require tweaking or improving. They’re helpful at the final stage or after the completion of the project. However, you can also use it to analyze how a project has turned out in comparison to its original plan. As you’ve probably guessed by now, you have to establish and set the project baseline at the beginning of the project, to lay down the essential foundations.

A woman in front of a list of milestones, estimates, costs and profit

 

What are the benefits of creating a baseline?

Without a project baseline, you can essentially be facing cost overruns and increases, scope creep, and in extreme cases even a project failure. You may also encounter difficulties measuring your progress, and unclarity regarding the aims of your project.

Here are the project baseline benefits:

  • It allows you to have time to sit down, organize, and carefully consider the basics of your project. This also allows you to get more into your idea, analyze it and consider if you want to follow through. Therefore it helps you to make a better assessment of your project and the estimates linked to it.
  • It helps you identify issues early on, which can be helpful in predicting extra costs, the number of staff involved, or solving problems before they get the chance to arise.
  • It allows you to clearly monitor the process of how the project is doing and track the process, not only of the overall project but also of the people involved in it.
  • It’s great for evaluating the outcomes after it’s finished. The earned value allows you to compare actual performance to your original plan. What’s more, it enables you to obtain trends and projections on project inconsistencies, which comes in handy in future project management.

According to a 2020 Project Management Institute survey, only 46% of businesses that don’t have a standardized technique of project management complete their projects on time and within their set budget. In comparison, as much as 67% of companies that are more experienced regarding project management finish their projects not only on time but also under budget. This shows that having a project management solution leads to greater outcomes.

Now that you know what a baseline is, what types there are, and what benefits it offers, it’s time to ask where to start.

How to create a baseline?

First of all, once you have your project idea, you must answer some crucial questions:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What issues may arise?
  • How much time do you have for this project?
  • How many people do you need to have involved?

Once you have answered all the necessary questions, you can begin solidifying the information you have gathered.

But why should you do this? As you know by now, the project baseline provides us with the foundations for our idea. It helps us set important milestones and deadlines. This is essential not only for you but also for all the people involved. It provides them with visibility of the idea, priorities, and responsibilities. It helps everyone monitor not only their own input but also the progress of the whole project. A lack of these things can lead to delays, unexpected difficulties, and expense overruns.

So, once you’ve answered these questions and have set yourself these foundations, you have to consider if all your aims and deadlines are realistic.

Now, you can begin to divide the workload. Start to create tasks, subtasks, and assign them to specific people or groups. Additionally, to create project milestones with strict deadlines and set the final date for the project completion.

You can use a Gantt chart to help you visualize the project outline, the processes, the people involved, their roles and responsibilities, the timeline, expenses, and to track any additional changes.

Here you can see an example of creating a baseline in Jira with the help of BigPicture.

 

With the help of BigPicture, you can also synchronize your baselines with Jira. The synced fields can be added to Column views or as fields to the Task / Risk Cards.

Due to the fact that you have set the project baseline at the very beginning, you may see changes arise during the development and duration of the project.

Can you make changes to a project baseline?

Updating the baseline is important. Any changes may disrupt the process and evolution of the project. If changes are necessary, you should make them through formal and fully controlled procedures. For example, by using a change request form and following a documented change approval process. First and foremost, you should at least save the previously created baselines. Then, make the new baseline afterward so there is a historical record of the project changes.

Any changes made to a project baseline are called baseline revisions. They help you revise the resource plan and new key elements in order to consider why these changes needed to be made in the first place.

Some adjustments may be necessary due to unforeseen changes. Such as team availability, changing costs, and changes within the original requirements and goals.

Remember that making changes is the last resort. Some small and minor changes can be made, but not too frequently. Constant changes – no matter how big or small – may cause the baseline to be completely altered. This creates chaos and might lead to project failure.

How to make sure the project baseline is on track?

Once your project is up and running, you have to monitor the process. Make sure that everyone involved is on track and up-to-date with their tasks.

Remember to keep an account of any tasks that are running ahead or behind schedule, if the set milestones have been achieved, and how any possible changes are impacting the project.

A view of two baseline charts in BigPicture- one showing the milestone delay and the other showing plan delays.

You might notice slight differences from the original plan. However, as long as you set the goals, time, and milestones to make sure they are completed or will realistically be achieved – you shouldn’t worry about it too much. Either way, make sure to stay on top of all the tasks and dates.

A lady sitting happy in front of a desk, with a baseline plan in front of her.

To sum up…

A project baseline is an important tool and aid for project managers. It allows them to track the scope, costs, and schedule of a given project. Also, it helps in assessing results and monitoring development on an improvement project. You can use a baseline to compare two different project outcomes. Additionally, you may use it in a variety of areas, companies, and for all sorts of projects.

A baseline is a solid foundation for your project. It forces you to verify the idea for the project and ask many questions necessary for successful and realistic planning. A well-planned outline, a solid foundation, and a group of people with assigned tasks, as well as progress checks. This contributes to quicker, more effective, and more efficient project management and faster completion.